Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374
In a journey of self-discovery, Margaret “Maggie” Vardoe escapes the confines of an unloving marriage and simultaneously moves from the city to the country. The authenticity of Maggie’s true self contrasted to the sham of the marriage as the artifices of urban life pale in comparison to the truth found in nature.
Moving from Vancouver to British Columbia’s mountainous interior, Maggie immerses herself in her new community, a hunting lodge on a lake. Far from idyllic, however, the new scene brings its own problems, as Maggie is increasingly at odds with Vera Gunnarsen, who owns the lodge with her husband Haldar. While Maggie is calm and even placid, the impetuous Vera over-reacts to everything. Jealous over the attention her husband and son pay to Maggie, Vera cannot accept responsibility for her own role and attempts suicide.
Back in the city, a parallel story develops, focusing on Maggie’s close friend Hilda Severance. Hilda’s mother, Nell, tries to guide Edward Vardoe’s efforts to pull his life together after Maggie leaves him. Nell, a former circus performer, has a strong personality that bowls over everyone around her. Edward is revealed consistently as unworthy of Maggie, who had apparently married him while still traumatized over losing her first husband in the war. His subsequent involvement with a woman who disrespects and dominates him may be interpreted as justice for emotionally abusing Maggie. Hilda, while emotionally connected to Maggie, moves on with her own life, marrying Albert Cousins.
While the reader wants to empathize with Maggie in her quest for an authentic life, her virtue can be off-putting and decrease her credibility. More generally, the entangled connections among all the characters are never fully resolved. Writing from an early 20th-century formation, Ethel Davis Bryant—who was born in the 1880s and began writing novels when middle-aged—anticipates many feminist concerns of the 1960s. The author interjects strong doses of symbolism into a basically realist novel, making many of the characters seem convenient vehicles for her messages rather than full-fledged characters. The “swamp angel” of the title turns out to be a gun, which Nell sends to Maggie. For reasons not fully explained, the plot’s resolution includes Maggie throwing the gun into the lake.
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